Through Thorn and Brier is a band made up of four musicians from New Jersey who claim their key influences and interests are “pizza” and “filth”. Although billed as crust/hardcore punk, their music rarely takes the speedy grindcore or powerviolence route of their closer contemporaries. Where most are content with thrashing out minute long bursts of noise paying homage to the likes of Discharge and F-Minus, Through Thorn and Brier take far longer to get their point across, preferring instead to throw down long, grinding metallic riffs, served up with a slightly raw garage punk production value. On this EP, the mix of styles serves them well.
With a typeface best associated with UK anarcho-punks Crass and a number of US bands that launched careers in the early 80s, the choice of sleeve art on this EP from Illinois hardcore band Genovia Forever gives listeners a pretty good idea of what to expect. Except, there’s a twist: the band’s name, the people depicted on the sleeve and at least one of these songs provides a direct reference to The Princess Diaries… Odd bedfellows indeed, but those things have inspired this four piece band to make an extremely angry recording – six tracks that recall those times when 7”s in monochrome wraparound sleeves sprang from DIY punk practitioners all across the US.
Following a much earlier EP and cuts on various comps, this 2011 7” by City Mouse is a superb disc. Issued on It’s Alive Records (home to The Copyrights, The Methadones and Gateway District), this record represents the Riverside, California punks as an underground band at the top of their game.
Fitting a huge amount of energy into just over six minutes, these four songs grind and bounce just as well as material released by many of the best-known names in melodic punk rock/pop punk. Classic sounding tunes need a great vocal, and in City Mouse’s frontwoman (and mainstay) Miski Dee Rodriguez, this band has an extra edge. Her voice moves between a melodic punk warble and attitude-filled hard rock rasp, which although not as instantly recognisable as a voice such as Tilt’s Cinder Block, for example, is more than distinctive.
The strongest cut, the razor-sharp ‘Dumb Dumb Dumb’ makes great use of a simple refrain and equally simple riff. Listening a little closer, a particularly busy bassline provides some more sophisticated elements; Zac Howe is a very talented player. Likewise, the highly infectious ‘Bird Song’, combines a fast punky riff with a sharp vocal line, the intermittent presence of the already familiar “here is the church, here is the steeple” line is guaranteed to make this tune stick in your memory.
The other two songs (‘You’ and ‘The Rhyme’) may not quite have such instant lyrical hooks, but are certainly on a par musically, especially at those times Howe’s basslines rattle out notes at speed, constantly fighting Dee’s guitar work for superiority. Of particular enjoyment is Miski’s performance on ‘The Rhyme’, on which her voice rings the best results out of nearly line.
Like Pinhead Gunpowder’s ‘Fahziah’, ‘Nervous Breakdown’ by Black Flag or ‘Spiral Scratch’ by Buzzcocks, here, City Mouse adds more weight to the argument that, when approached correctly, the 7” four-song EP is the ultimate punk artefact. If you have ever been attracted to (m)any of the punk bands from California – particularly the best Larry Livermore-produced ones on the Lookout! Records label – then this is definitely for you.
Following an EP in 2008, US/Czech punks Pipes and Pints attracted a cult audience with their first full length LP in 2009. Three years on, their brand of Celtic street punk gets a second airing on ‘Found & Lost’. It is unlikely to win over many people who’ve previously not grasped any other bagpipe led punk outfits, but most of the songs are incredibly strong. The strength of the material combined with a fantastic production job from Darian Rundell (known for his work with Pennywise and 98 Mute) is enough to ensure the band picks up a few new fans of their chosen subgenre on their ongoing journey.
Offering a good overview of the band’s sound, ‘One Connection’ forges ahead with some tough street punk riffs and a sound worthy of Rancid/Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards. Crunchy guitars and rumbling bassline attack the listener with a near relentlessness, and it is quickly obvious that in terms of rhythm section, Pipes and Pints could rival most of their better known contemporaries. While the tune is excellent, the best moments come courtesy of a gang vocal that hits hard with some simple repetition. …And it’s that shout-along, near anthemic approach which eventually proves ‘Found & Lost’s best calling card, something which sits proudly front and centre during the title cut. While that particular song doesn’t have one of Pipes and Pints’ most imaginative arrangements, it wins through on the chorus alone. On the relatively lengthy ‘Warpath 82’ they take a similar tack, topping a strong punk ethic with gang vocals, infectious whoas and, ultimately, moments of call and response between chorus and lead voice which provide a great sense of unity.
A touch more tuneful in places, ‘Calling Me’ adopts quieter verses, led by bassist Ondra Balvin. When it kicks in, the tune has a full-on bounce quota, with a sound that hints at previous work classic punkers and sometime label-mates Face To Face. While each band member gives their all, interestingly, the most memorable aspect comes from Votja Kalina’s bagpipes, as he uses them to deliver something akin to an upbeat riff as opposed to the more usual drones. Throw in more gang vocals and you have a winning combination. Although cut from similar elements, the rousing ‘Right Or Wrong’ pushes all the right buttons with punky attack and old-school, slightly 50s rock ‘n’ roll guitar break. Since the music is solid throughout and (during the quietest moments) Syco Mike sounds like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Dicky Barrett, this particular track would have been improved if Kalina had left the bagpipes to one side…just for a while.
Perhaps the strongest track overall on this second outing, ‘Her Life and Thoughts’, mixes traditional staccato punk riffs with heavier guitar chops showing a strong sense of light and shade throughout. Although the vocals have the usual gravelly approach, the lyrics are delivered crisply and have an audible quality that’s well suited to the relatively melodic style adopted. The bagpipes – used here in a very traditional fashion – add intermittent drones, which although aren’t necessarily bringing anything vital to the overall mix, are fine enough. After all, you can’t really tackle Celtic punk without them.
Looking at the bigger picture, the band have a knack with a chorus that deserves to greet the ears of a bigger audience. If you like bagpipes and punk, you’re fine and dandy and firmly set for half an hour of fairly raucous singalongs, but if the bagpipe starts to grate – let’s remember, it’s never been the most musicial of instruments – ‘Found & Lost’ could be considered a tougher listen at times, at least for some. At their best, though, even if not as well rounded as the Dropkick Murphys on this disc, Pipes and Pints could teach the often-on-autopilot Flogging Molly a thing or two.
Released via the independent Baldy Longhair Records – a label championing analogue formats, specialising in cassettes – This split EP ‘…Are On The Other Side’ features three tracks each from two New Jersey DIY bands. The Disconnects’ straight up rock ‘n’ roll/punk hybrid (with a heavy leaning towards the latter) should appeal to most punk-oriented listeners, while Crazy & The Brains opt for something a little more individual.
By the time of this release, The Disconnects had already gained enthusiastic notices for their earlier ‘…Are Healthy’ cassette. Fans of that release will be thrilled to know that the NJ punkers are working firmly to a tried and tested formula here, with their three songs capturing a similar spirit as before with their near-classic brand of punk and rock proving tough-edged yet wholly accessible.
Kicking off with ‘Wake Up Dead’, the band stamp out riffs which sound like a cross between early Rocket From The Crypt and the more retrained elements of cult UK punk ‘n’ rollers, The Computers. Mixing a high energy riff with a slightly yelpy vocal, this two minute belter ensures maximum thrills. If anything, though, two-minute belter ‘Parasite’ which swiftly follows is an improvement. Whereas ‘Wake Up Dead’ filled a far bars with a trashy lead break, ‘Parasite’ is purely lean and mean, the only concession to a lead break being a very brief Chuck Berry-esque riff occasionally cutting through the sweat. Their final offering, ‘Destroyer’ pulls together the best elements of the two prior numbers, coupling them with a one-word chorus, designed to lodge itself in your head almost instantly.
On the flip side, Crazy and the Brains are somewhat more of an acquired taste. While often taking on the speed and energy of a punk band, they aren’t so easily pigeonholed. Their sound takes in elements of indie-rock and lo-fi grooves, a little anti-folk and a whole world of garage-based sneering. What really sets them apart is their choice of lead instrument: whereas most bands would fill the lead space with a spiky lead guitar, these guys leave most of the lead to a plunky xylophone! Yes…you read that correctly.
Both ‘It’s Alright’ and ‘New York City’ sound like a lo-fi, relatively low budget cousin of early Violent Femmes, something driven home by the use of acoustic instruments and nasal vocal. With maximum speed, the clanking percussion on ‘It’s Alright’ grabs the attention instantly, so much so, it’s occasionally hard to focus on the other stuff going on. ‘New York City’ features a a bouncier more accessible sense of melody and some unashamed “woo woos!” thrown into the bargain, but once you’ve tuned in, though, both numbers have their cool elements.
While The Brains’ own material is fun enough, it is on a spirited cover of Ramones’ ‘Oh Oh, I Love Her So’ where they really come alive. The trashy 60s vibe really suits the percussion, allowing the xylophone to hammer out an upbeat rhythm and give a well-worn punk classic an unfamiliar slant. The instrumentation may have changed, but Ramones die-hards will be pleased to know the main arrangement has not. Given their unique sense of style within punk circles, it would be great to hear what C&tB could do with other classics – maybe a couple of Damned hits played in a quasi-buskers’ style, or Black Flag tunes played on an array of percussive instruments…
Between the more traditional sounds of The Disconnects’ punk ‘n’ roll and Crazy & the Brains’ take on garage based fun, each side of this EP has very much its own distinctive mood…and makes a great jumping off point for anyone unfamiliar with either artist. The playing time may be short, but it’s about quality over quantity here – especially in the case of the material offered by The Disconnects – making this more than a quickly recorded selection of cast-offs.